What Does the Company You Keep Say About You?

Friends to the (very near) end. Photo via good-times.webshots.com

Then

Big Pete was a rotund twenty-year-old with thinning red hair that reached down to his butt.  He sold and consumed copious amounts of cocaine.  He drove his Jeep on a suspended drivers license.  He gorged nightly on beef jerky shoplifted from 7-Eleven.

His roommate, The Captain, owed his name to his affection for Captain Morgan rum.  The Captain was a bald-on-top, mullet-down-below, goateed, beer-bellied, mid-forties, unemployed chef from Boston.  He sat around his apartment all day pulling bong hits, consuming Captain and Cokes and watching MASH reruns on the FX channel.

Pete and The Captain were my neighbors and, for all intents and purposes, my best friends.

The year I lived next to them would mark the nadir of my drinking.  I was getting sloshed nightly, but because I couldn’t afford to do all my drinking at bars, and because Boulder, Colorado bars’ last call was around 1:15, I needed friends to bookend my nightly debauches.  Though I thought MASH incipit, the Captain, who as mentioned never left the house and could not condemn my drinking, was a steady pre-bar companion.

After the bars, I would return home sexually frustrated and thirsty.  This was Pete time.  He was always awake, cutting up lines.  We’d hang out, me toting my ever-present bottle of medium-grade bourbon, him doling out blow.   I’d sit there wiping out what little consciousness was left while he bragged to about his exploits with women—essentially tales of coercing women into exchanging sexual favors for cocaine.

Now

I was checking out a poll conducted on a chat forum for Stevepavlina.com users.  The question Pavlina, a famous personal-development blogger, put out was, “How many good friends do you have in your life right now that into personal growth at least as much as you are?”

Pavlina was touching on a point that has been known through the ages.  In Christianity it’s called Fellowship.  In Buddhism it’s called Sangha.  In Hinduism, Satsang.  It’s the idea that our friends and communities are essential parts of our personal and spiritual growth, that the conversations we have with them play a vital role in defining our worldview.  If everyone we hang out with is talking about possibility and love, than that’s the world we inhabit.  If everyone we we hang out with is talking about limitation and enmity, than that’s the world we inhabit.

Pete and The Captain used to be my Sangha.  They supported my worldview of self-destruction and complacency.  They were perfect traveling partners, reflectors of the darkness that pervaded my life.

When I cleaned up, my company changed.  I started hanging out with people who were into living healthy, positive lives.

That said, it hasn’t always been so stark a change.  It’s been more of a gradual transition from dark to light.  As such, I’ve found myself keeping pretty dark company at times.  And say what I could about why I was spending time with them (I wanted someone to do something with, we had similar taste in shoes, whatever), I knew that they were a reflection of who I was at that time.  Dark people liked hanging out with me because I was dark too.

The company we keep is a reflection of our worldview.  This is not a value judgment, just a statement of fact.  Dark attracts dark as light attracts light.

So when I read Pavlina’s poll, I was at first a bit threatened.  I thought, “Are my friends as serious about personal growth as I am?”  Even though I’m not a big fan of the term “personal growth”—I prefer spiritual growth or personal evolution—the sentiment is the same:  does the company I keep reflect my values?

A dinner engagement I had that night seemed to answer the question.  The dinner was on my friend Ike’s boat.  Ike runs yoga and Reiki retreats on and off the boat.  His girlfriend who was there designs spaces and surfaces that encourage active and passive anatomical healing.  Another dinner guest was an experienced yogi.  My girlfriend is an artist.  Our dinner conversation was about growth and healing and creativity.  This is the world I inhabit it would seem.  Pete and the Captain seemed many moons away.

If this all seems lame and flowery, I feel sorry for you.  It’s pretty cool being supported to be your highest self by the people you spend the most time with—much better than expounding on the suckiness of the world; a pastime I know only too well.

If this idyllic setting makes you despair about you current peer group (or lack thereof), fear not.  There was only one way I got from swilling booze and doing lines with the Pete and The Captain to hanging with a bunch of beautiful, clearheaded healers.  I started talking about what was important to me.

When something is important to us, we cannot not talk about it.  If getting fucked up is important to us, we are going to talk about it and attract other burnouts.  I always found the stoners, junkies and drunks in any given situation because it was very important to me, and my conversations reflected that value system.  Likewise, if spiritual development, conscious evolution or however you want to phrase it, is important to us, we are going to talk about that.  If our existing peer group wants to talk about these latter things with us, we have a communal conversation.  Suddenly our isolated thoughts become a supportive network.  This is an important step most of us don’t take.  We often assume that our friends don’t want to talk about spiritual growth, so we don’t even try.  On Pavlina’s poll, half the people survey reported having no friends who were into personal growth—a fact surely attributable the surveyed not talking about their affinity for personal development.  This type of compartmentalization can lead to wholesale abandonment of existing friends.  We discard them because we don’t believe in the possibility that they’d understand our interests.

If our existing community does not want to talk about it (a not-so-improbable scenario), then we might consider reevaluating the company we keep.  It’s not an issue of right or wrong, loyalty or disloyalty.  It’s about being honest.  If we are not talking about what’s important to us, we are being dishonest with ourselves or them.  That’s not doing either party a favor.

For me, creating a supportive community of friends has been an organic process.  As my truth becomes clearer and clearer, I talk about it more.  It started with a small core of people who knew this side of me, and continues to grow into a widening gyre of influence.  There have been no inquisitions, no purges.  It’s only taken a willingness to stop pretending to be something I wasn’t.

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